A chicken of the woods is a type of parasitic edible mushroom found growing on the trunks of trees east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Scientifically, it is known as Laetiporus sulphureus, and although other species in the genus superficially resemble it, true chicken of the woods is only found in the Eastern United States. It is a bizarre looking mushroom, and is quite popular for human consumption in some areas, although it has a very fungus like flavor which some people find off putting.
This mushroom can be found growing on the trunks of yew, oak, chestnut, and willow trees. The mycelium, which is the major part of the fungus, grows underneath the bark. The fruiting body of the fungus is what observers know as chicken of the woods. The fungus is also known as sulfur shelf because of the distinctive bright yellow to orange color it has when young. The mushroom has no gills, instead forming a fan-like or semicircular growth which is soft and spongy when young that hardens with age.
When picking chicken of the woods for consumption, young mushrooms should be selected, because they will be more tender and flavorful. Young ones are bright yellow, and can be cut off close to the trunk. They should not be torn, because this will damage the mycelium and could kill the parent fungus. The mushroom is very distinctive, and therefore difficult to misidentify: if the picker is in doubt, he or she consult an experienced mushroom hunter.
Chicken of the woods actually behaves a lot like chicken when cooked, having flaky white flesh. The taste is woodsy and mushroom like, and can enhance a variety of dishes. It is an especially good choice for vegetarians as a mock-meat menu item. The mushroom should be fully cooked, as some people experience intestinal discomfort when eating it raw.
Cooks should use the chicken of the woods within several days of picking it. It in a paper bag in the refrigerator before using it if needed, and it should be brushed gently to remove dirt and plant material before it is cooked. Chicken of the woods does not dry well, although some mushroom hunters have found that it keeps well in the freezer for up to three months.